Don’t play poker with Shap Smith

ItsNotGamblingAs one lawmaker pointed out yesterday, the Speaker of the House has never lost a vote he wanted to win.

Which is either testimony to Shap Smith’s backstage adroitness or his overabundant caution, depends on who you ask. In reality, it’s both.

His gifts were on full display yesterday, although not on the floor of the House. There, the apparent drama was high as votes approached on the big tax and budget bills of 2015. A coalition of liberal, Progressive and independent lawmakers were prepared to vote no — and that, combined with the Republican minority, would be enough to sink the measures and send the House back to the drawing board. Or the back rooms, anyway.

Indeed, on Thursday morning the tax bill was headed for defeat and the budget vote was going to be close.  But the Democratic leadership made a deal with Minority Leader Don Turner to ensure enough Republican votes to pass both bills. The tax bill passed 76-67, and later the budget bill passed by a roughly two-to-one margin.

What did Turner receive for, as VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld put it, ensuring “Passage of a Budget [the Republicans] Don’t Support”?

Well, in a lighthearted Tweet yesterday, I estimated his take as three paper clips, a rubber band, and some pocket lint. The reality wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t much better.

Reportedly, Turner got a couple concessions that will actually increase spending: three more months of funding for the two Emergency 911 call centers slated for closure, plus more money for the Vermont Veterans’ Home. The two call centers are in heavily Republican areas and veterans are part of the GOP base. And constituency trumps consistency.

Beyond that, Turner folded to a big fat bluff by pokermeister Smith.

“Because their alternative was to increase spending to attract the more liberal side of the House,” Turner says.

Yeah, maybe. The hallway chatter told another story: Smith had no interest in dealing with the liberals, but it was a very convenient lever to get the Republican votes he wanted.

At day’s end, Smith raked in the winner’s pot. He got very tough tax and budget bills through the House with amazingly little disputation; he kept his undefeated streak alive; and he cemented his reputation as a moderate Democrat who can be dealt with and trusted to deliver.

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